Of Arabian knights

Superman Is an Arab
By Joumana Haddad.
Westbourne Press. £8.99

Joumana Haddad, a Lebanese poet and journalist, has written a bold and often very funny polemic on patriarchy in the Arab world. The macho species, Haddad argues, see themselves as "Supermen", and Arab men, in particular, find it hard to reveal their vulnerabilities or share their anxieties with women.

Like Superman, they have, "the same split personality: the same macho manners; the same ‘I'm- good-and-the-rest-are-evil’ stance; the same ‘I am indestructible’ delusion". She is quick to point out that her book is not a diatribe against men but "a howl in the face of the patriarchal system". She equally takes to task those women who refuse to fight against sexism, who don't assert their independence, who tolerate bullying males, and the mothers who keep silent while their daughters are abused. Haddad rails against child marriage, honour killings and the sexual double standards of the Arab world — in particular the overvaluing of female chastity.

As she points out, many Arab women are expected to remain virgins until they get married, while men happily "collect sexual experiences". It's all about controlling women's sexuality, and one of the worst manifestations is female genital mutilation. Shockingly, this barbaric practice still affects millions of girls and women.

As well as its humour, there is much that will resonate with Western readers.

Haddad received death threats after founding the Arab world's first erotic cultural magazine and continues to be harassed for her feminist writing. So there is something celebratory and defiant about her rallying call for women to destroy "the rotten system," in order to rebuild, with men, something better. She outlines the need for "a new kind of man: the kind that doesn't require the subjugation of women, the hijacking of their rights and the degradation of their feelings in order to feel 'manly'". And she urges women not to rely on a super male ego for their needs but to seek financial independence, engage in politics and strive for equality.

— The Independent

Anything but a holiday mood!

Holidays in Heck
By P J O'Rourke
Grove Press £8.99

In this book, PJ O'Rourke, the US war correspondent turned lefty-baiting humourist, travels to a variety of popular tourist destinations and chronicles his disappointments. “I have little tolerance for fun when other people are having it,” he writes, bewildered at the jollity of his fellow travellers in Venice or Hong Kong or— horror of horrors —Disneyland. Those who share his lugubrious take on the world may find much to enjoy in this collection of articles, although I would question the accuracy of O'Rourke's observations, given his comments on the "British manner of cheerfully not complaining". He clearly never asked any London cabbies what they thought of the Olympics.

A look at the world of animals

What I Don't Know About Animals
By Jenny Diski.
Little Brown. £6.99

Part-memoir, part-philosophy, part-ethology, What I Don't Know About Animals is an engaging meditation on animals and our relationship with them. Diski explores scientific and religious attitudes to animals, considers the ethics of eating meat (like many of us, she's uneasy about it but still does it), visits a hill farm, goes on safari, muses on representations of animals in film and television (she likes David Attenborough but not Johnny Morris), discusses the battle between reductionists and humanists, experiments with horse-riding, and conquers her arachnophobia. There is a constant tension between her sense of empathy for animals, and her acknowledgement of their fundamental, unknowable otherness. She also examines the fascinating question of why Jacques Derrida's cat used to stare at his private parts.